In my father's house were many fancies. Always, for instance, on every Thanksgiving Day it was the custom in our family to bud the Christmas tree.
Young Derry Willard came from Cuba. His father and our father had been chums together at college. None of us had ever seen him before. We were very much excited to have a strange young man invited for Thanksgiving dinner. My sister Rosalee was seventeen. My brother Carol was eleven. I myself was only nine, but with very tall legs.
Young Derry Willard was certainly excited when he saw the Christmas tree. Excited enough, I mean, to shift his eyes for at least three minutes from my sister Rosalee's face. Lovely as my sister Rosalee was, it had never yet occurred to any of us, I think,[Pg 4] until just that moment that she was old enough to have perfectly strange young men stare at her so hard. It made my father rather nervous. He cut his hand on the carving-knife. Nothing ever made my mother nervous.
Except for father cutting his hand it seemed to be a very nourishing dinner. The tomato soup was pink with cream. The roast turkey didn't look a single sad bit like any one you'd seen before. There was plenty of hard-boiled egg with the spinach. The baked potatoes were frosted with red pepper. There was mince pie. There was apple pie. There was pumpkin pie. There were nuts and raisins. There were gay gold-paper bonbons. And everywhere all through the house the funny blunt smell of black coffee.
It was my brother Carol's duty always to bring in the Christmas tree. By some strange mix-up of what is and what isn't my brother Carol was dumb—stark dumb, I mean, and[Pg 5] from birth. But tho he had never found his voice he had at least never lost his shining face. Even now at eleven in the twilightly end of a rainy Sunday, or most any day when he had an earache, he still let mother call him "Shining Face." But if any children called him "Shining Face" he kicked them. Even when he kicked people, tho, he couldn't stop his face shining. It was very cheerful. Everything about Carol was very cheerful. No matter, indeed, how much we might play and whisper about gifts and tinsels and jolly-colored candles, Christmas never, I think, seemed really probable to any of us until that one jumpy moment, just at the end of the Thanksgiving dinner, when, heralded by a slam in the wood-shed, a hoppytyskip in the hall, the dining-room door flung widely open on Carol's eyes twinkling like a whole skyful of stars through the shaggy, dark branches of a young spruce-tree. It made young Derry Willard laugh right out loud.[Pg 6]
"Why, of all funny things!" he said. "On Thanksgiving Day! Why, it looks like a Christmas tree!"
"It is a Christmas tree," explained my sister Rosalee very patiently. My sister Rosalee was almost always very patient. But I had never seen her patient with a young man before. It made her cheeks very pink. "It is a Christmas tree," she explained. "That is, it's going to be a Christmas tree! Just the very first second we get it 'budded' it'll start right in to be a Christmas tree!"
"Budded?" puzzled young Derry Willard. Really for a person who looked so much like the picture of the Fairy Prince in my best story-book, he seemed just a little bit slow.
"Why, of course, it's got to be budded!" I cried. "That's what it's for! That's——"
Instead of just being pink patient my sister Rosalee started in suddenly to be dimply patient too.[Pg 7]
"It's from mother's Christmas-tree garden, you know," she went right on explaining. "Mother's got a Winter garden—a Christmas-tree garden!"
"Father's got a garden, too!" I maintained stoutly. "Father's is a Spring garden! Reds, blues, yellows, greens, whites! From France! And Holland! And California! And Asia Minor! Tulips, you know. Buster's! Oh, father's garden is a glory!" I boasted.
"And mother's garden," said my mother very softly, "is only a story."
"It's an awfully nice story," said Rosalee.
Young Derry Willard seemed to like stories.